WTJU Town Hall Forum Draws 200 Supporters

July 14, 2010 — Determination to preserve the musical diversity of WTJU-FM while helping it increase listenership, student participation and revenue was the dominant theme of a town hall-style meeting Monday evening for volunteers and fans of the station.

About 200 people attended the meeting, held in the Zehmer Hall conference center at the University of Virginia. Highlights included a promise of support from out-of-town alumni of the station, and a surprise offer from an anonymous would-be buyer.

WTJU, at 91.1 FM, is U.Va.'s radio station, housed in Lambeth Commons. After new general manager Burr Beard proposed a format which was approved by the University, but different from the station's current mix of classical, jazz, folk and rock, the volunteer staff erupted. The controversy became front-page news and resulted in Monday's airing.

Beard's hiring and his proposal came about because of concerns about listenership. The latest Arbitron radio ratings showed WTJU with a cumulative weekly audience of about 7,500. In addition, underwriting and donor support have waned, as has student participation in the formerly student-run operation. The station has an annual budget of about $350,000; more than 40 percent is supplied by student activity fees.

Beard acknowledged that his proposal lacked support from the volunteers. "My plan is off the table," he said Monday. "What I'm asking you is to let me come out into the community and join you in this open process."

DJ Dave Rogers, whose on-air persona, "Professor Bebop," has been a WTJU staple for 37 years, presented a plan for renewal that was approved by all four of the station's music departments.

"We all acknowledge some weaknesses that we need to pick up on," he said, referring to the need for improved financial stability, student involvement and listenership. One major initiative would be to expand the station's Web presence and online streaming capabilities for listeners worldwide.

"We need to build on WTJU's legacy as a free-form station," he said, "and what that means is classical, jazz, folk, rock – the whole spectrum."

That message resounded over and over, to much applause.

Three WTJU alumni, representing the '70s, '80s and '90s, said they had been able, in just a few days, to put together an alumni group via Google and raise pledges for $20,000 – "conditional on the soul of WTJU being preserved," said Aaron Margosis of Alexandria,

Nearly two dozen speakers threw their support to the station's current musical mix during the public comment period, including jazz musician and U.Va. professor John D'earth, who, referring to the depth and diversity of the music community in Charlottesville, said that the station helps U.Va. fulfill its mission to disseminate culture. Proposals ranged from allowing supporters to make recurring credit-card donations to offering paid student internships and course credit to making the station more visible on alumni websites.

One proposal that was not greeted warmly came from Adam Silverman, who said he was representing an anonymous individual who wanted to buy WTJU, "although WTJU has not put itself on the FM frequency auction block."

Carol Wood, associate vice president for public affairs, immediately responded: "WTJU is not for sale and will never be for sale."

Following public comments, Wood called the evening "an extraordinary gathering."

"We've been starting to explore all these wonderful ideas and opportunities that have been left to lie fallow," she said. "Let's reinvigorate WTJU. It's now a household word."

Public comments are open until July 23 on the WTJU Forum site, where full audio of the meeting and many of the proposals presented will be posted as soon as possible. Comments can also be phoned in to 434-971-8678.

A committee comprising volunteers, station staff members and Public Affairs staff members will then begin distilling the results to arrive at a renewal plan, which can be rolled out over a period of months.